When is it Easiest to Use Alcohol/Drugs Without Being Detected?
Summer Seems to be the Answer…
Periodically, we survey our patients about the what, when, and how of their alcohol/drug use. While becoming honest is part of the recovery process, what the kids tell us is also important information for other parents who wonder about their own sons’ and daughters’ use of psychoactive drugs and what the warning signs are for addiction.
From a recent group of 45 patients we learned the following facts:
- Not surprisingly, most of the kids’ heaviest use occurred in the summer (“No school to worry about”).
- When asked how long they used alcohol and drugs before their parents realized it, the responses ranged from two months to three years, with the average being one year of unnoticed alcohol/drug use.
- The majority of young patients admitted that they had stolen their parents’ medications (e.g. Oxycontin) without detection.
- When asked what responses they gave when their parents suspected them of being high, the kids gave a variety of responses with the most frequent being “I’m just tired”, “I was only holding some drugs for a friend”, and “I just tried it once”.
- While some patients reported that they never brought drugs into their homes, most admitted that they had hidden drugs around the house, with a surprising number keeping their drugs in their backpacks.
- Virtually all our patients declared that they lied to parents about their whereabouts when they went out.
What are parents learning from the experience of teenagers who are victims of chemical dependency?
The messages are clear:
- Talk to your child about your expectations regarding their use of drugs and alcohol.
- Where your child and alcohol and drug use are concerned, summer is not the time to relax your guard. Without the structure of school and other school based activities, kids have too many daily opportunities to begin or continue using psychoactive drugs.
- If you notice a distinct difference in your child’s appearance or behavior (e.g., slower reaction time, blood shot eyes, jitteriness) and suspect drug use, don’t automatically accept your child’s explanation. Most parents of our patients admit that they should have challenged their children’s responses much earlier than they did.
- If you suspect alcohol and drug use, be doubly vigilant about the whereabouts of your child. Get the names of the friends your child is with and verify those with the parents of those friends.
- Know where all psychoactive medications are and keep an accurate count of the number of pills in each bottle.
- If you suspect alcohol/drug use, don’t be hesitant about checking for hidden drugs.
- Rather than trying to solve the problem yourself, seek an assessment of your child’s drug use from a professional. A good clinician will often get teens to talk honestly about the extent of their alcohol/drug consumption.
Scientists have not only established that chemical addiction is a disease of the brain, but also that its onset is usually much quicker in teens than it is in adults. As one scientist has described the process, the frontal lobes of childrens’ brains, the impulse manager, are slow to develop and override the older part of the brain that responds to pleasure and pain. Psychoactive drugs ignite the “go” system of the brain (I “am invincible”) and the “stop” mechanism (“this is dangerous for me”) is too weak to respond. When a genetic predisposition to addiction exists, the onset of the disease can be almost instantaneous.
Not all adolescent drug use constitutes addiction. Much of it may be experimentation triggered by peer pressure. The only way for a parent to be sure is to get an unbiased assessment from a professional who understands kids and addiction. The only unwise course of action when you know your child is using is to “wait and see.”